Columbia University student Emily Sulkowicz has stood by her word, vowing to carry her mattress around every time she’s on campus, in protest of how the school handled her rape allegation against another student. With the help of friends, she carried the mattress across the stage at a graduation event on Tuesday.
After school officials reportedly mishandled her alleged sexual assault in 2012 by failing to take action against a man who was accused of raping her and two other students, Emily was forced to carry the weight of what happened to her without any repercussions for the man she says attacked her. She turned the experience into her senior art project by carrying a mattress around with her until the man she said raped her was no longer at school because he’d been expelled, chosen to leave or graduated. (Her alleged rapist, Paul Nungesser, denies her accusations and has filed a federal discrimination suit against the school, the university president and the professor who approved Emily’s project.)
Her project sparked a national movement against sexual assault on college campuses and a protest in which students left 28 mattresses on the steps university president’s house. They were fined for the clean-up, which sparked another debate over how they’re being punished for acting against sexual assault, but an alleged rapist is not being punished for anything.
It seems the school hasn’t started treated Emily much better, trying to stop her from taking the mattress across the stage several times, according to The New York Times. A woman reportedly approached her before the event, asking her to put the mattress in another room during the ceremony. When Emily declined, the lady showed up again before the mattress-carrying group took the stage, asking them not to carry it across. After declining again and making their trek to the end of the stage with the mattress in tow, the school president turned his back on her. He’d shaken the hand of every other student.
Nungesser was also at the ceremony, walking across the stage just moments before Emily.
Emily told reporters this was her last time carrying the mattress on campus. Thanks to her bravery, more discussions are being had about campus sexual assault and more women are helping rape survivors to carry that weight together.
Update: A day after she walked across the stage, group using the Twitter handle @fakerape seems to have put posters of Emily up across campus, with the words “Pretty Little Liar” written on them. They did the same with an image of Lena Dunham, who said she was raped as an Oberlin College student.